Today we stop and take a moment to honor the hundreds of thousands of men and women who stepped up and served to protect our nation by serving in the armed forces.
“On Veterans Day, the nation honors our Veterans and their unique role safeguarding our freedom as a people,” wrote Department of Veteran Affairs Secretary, David Shulkin. “Our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln envisioned the honoring of our war dead, in what later became Memorial Day, and caring for the living of those who engaged our enemies on the battlefield on what today is Veterans Day. That promise includes both the Veteran who walked a post, stood on the deck of a great ship, or flew in the skies, and the families who provided them so much support.”
Shulkin added, “On this day, we remember those who have sworn an oath to honor and defend this great nation.”
It is true that President Trump, Sec. Shulkin, and elected leaders from both parties have been working diligently to address some of the issues facing Veterans across the country. Most of their efforts have been focused on addressing VA healthcare and ensuring Veterans have access to care at VA hospitals.
However there are still other issues that need to be addressed. As of January of 2016, the latest data available, there are still more than 39,000 homeless Veterans scattered across the country. Veterans make up more than 10% of the overall homeless population and over 20% of the male homeless population. They predominately live in large cities and the majority suffer from a disability, mental illness, or substance abuse problems.
The Trump administration also pushed for a 27% cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as ‘Food Stamps’. SNAP help keep 42 million Americans from starving, of that an estimated 1.7 million are Veterans. To make it worse, more than 23,000 active duty service members rely on food stamps to feed their families. Reports also show that nearly 50% of children at Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) schools qualify for free or reduced lunches.
Trump and his Republican allies have been attacking Veterans by attacking healthcare. Trump wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare and put an end to the Medicaid Expansion. If Republicans had succeeded in gutting Medicaid Expansion an estimated 340,000 Veterans would likely lose their healthcare coverage. In 2015, 1.7 million Veterans relied on Medicaid for some portion of their healthcare.
“Veterans and their family members depend on Medicaid. Sometimes it supplements VA or other coverage; for many, it is their only source of coverage,” wrote VoteVets.og in May of this year. “Congressional actions such as capping and cutting Medicaid or ending or phasing out the Medicaid expansion would make it harder for veterans to get the health care they need.”
Lastly, Republicans have repeatedly blocked efforts to raise the federal minimum wage. The Union Veterans Council (AFL-CIO) estimates that 16% of all Veterans in the workforce make less than $15 an hour. Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour would boost the wages of more than 3.2 million Veterans alone.
While Trump and Congressional Republicans spend their days giving lip service to Veterans, labor unions are actually doing something to help Veterans find meaningful employment and work their way into the middle class. Labor has been helping Veterans as far back as the Civil War.
The Building Trades Unions created apprentice programs specifically for Veterans called the Helmets to Hardhats program. In the last six years alone, the North American Building Trades have spent $1.2 billion dollars training Veterans to reenter the workforce after their time in the service.
Aside from training exiting service members before they leave the armed services, unions have also fought to preserve veterans preferences for hiring, opposed cuts to healthcare, continue to fight for a fully funded and fully staffed VA, and pushing for a higher minimum wage.
It is easy to see who truly honors and supports our nations Veterans and who is using them for political fodder.